I’ve entered this painting The BEST of Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators Exhibition, part of Art on the Rox, opening October 9, 2010, Father Ryan Arts Center, McKees Rocks, PA. Each member of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators can choose one piece with they feel best represents their work. The show hangs until December 3.
I chose this painting because this series of paintings best represents my abilities with my main medium, pastel, and this large, realistic style which, while it draws from photographs, draws more from my deepest perceptual memories of a place and moment and fuses them into one image.
I have written about this piece below, and it was also the principal painting in my poetry reading and art exhibit at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in 2009; the poem I composed for it is at the end.
Autumn in the Valley Pastel, 31″ x 27″, 2009
Autumn in the Watershed, in the series “Art of the Watershed”
The season doesn’t turn the page of autumn and become winter; the change begins long before, at the height of the previous season, and it draws us into the transition with whispers of what is to come.
Sloping hills blaze with autumn color at a rocky, rippled bend in Chartiers Creek, yet on the horizon deep gray-purple clouds hover; although the day was sunny I remember it being distinctly chilly with a sharpness to the breeze, especially on the water in a canoe, and winter is literally on the horizon.
For two reasons the scene was reminiscent and inspiring: first, that I rounded the bend to see this natural splendor in all its detail, brilliant color, fluttering leaves, rippling water, changing clouds, happening all on its own with no help from me or any other human; and, second, it was an example of that “change of season” with the gray-purple clouds of winter arriving on the horizon, two seasons blending into one another. I needed to share this image, and it was so moving that the inspiration also became a poem, and the title for my third annual poetry reading and art show at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Change of Season.
And again, no, I couldn’t paint while paddling, and my little digital photos didn’t do the scene justice, yet other than wading down the creek and setting up an easel in the middle of the water, there was no other way of painting this. To take the scene from the tiny digital image to the full-size painting took a good bit of memory and visualization; it’s a good thing I’m very familiar with scenes like this.
In the mini-ecosystem in the valley along Chartiers Creek, the color show begins a little later and the trees keep their leaves a little longer, perhaps because of the extra humidity along the water through the dry heat of late summer. The diversity of species is generally much greater in both the trees and the understory brush and grasses, which encourages a greater diversity of foliage color and shape. When the show begins, it’s absolutely breathtaking and it gets more stunning every day until a November storm rips the last of the leaves away.
This area of the creek is approximately below Rosslyn Farms, between Carnegie and Crafton. In this area, the creek’s channel was widened and dredged deeper and the banks made more sloping through the Fulton Flood Control Project, allowing all the runoff from upstream communities to flow ever faster down the valley without overflowing the banks or backing up into Carnegie, as had happened prior to the Project. Also, many of the trees were removed from the banks up to a certain level. Still, even with that modification, the channel remains beautiful and inviting in this lovely and unseen area of Chartiers Creek.
Here is the poem I wrote about this scene.
I paddled the canoe around the bend,
And was faced with the effortless beauty of the panorama,
The trees in all their colors, the sky with changing clouds,
The water moving and reflecting simultaneously,
All perfectly arranged,
I realized that my creations are but raindrops in a puddle,
Wisps of cloud that change and dissipate
My solitary accomplishments borne of great effort
Would never equal this one solitary scene
Or the one I would have seen the day before or the day after
Evolved on its own, no one to frame it and display it and promote it
As it quietly exists through the day.
We humans sometimes get to think everything happens because of us
But these trees and grasses and hills arrange themselves
And create great beauty effortlessly
Simply in the process of their everyday existence.
So I did a painting that can never match the original
So that I may remember my place.
About “Art of the Watershed”
A series of seasonal images of the Lower Chartiers Watershed
“I have travelled a good deal in Concord,” said Henry David Thoreau in Walden, his paradox of exploring a small town and its surroundings teaching him as much about human life and the interactions of nature as if he had traveled rare and exotic places about the globe.
I’d love to paint faraway exotic places, but in the interests of time I stay close to home for my hiking, bicycling, canoeing, walking and painting excursions, that being the valley where the Lower Chartiers Creek flows.
I’ve seen some exquisite sights on my adventures, and committed them to various media. The most moving are the ones I’ve chosen to paint large and in detail so that I might convey at least a portion of the grandeur that moved me beyond awe to action, sharing the places right around us though most people would never see them. Thus was born the series offering an image indicative of the watershed in each season.
You can find out more about this painting and the Art of the Watershed series on my website.